Monkeys can’t get reinfected with coronavirus, study suggests

Macaque monkeys can't get reinfected with the deadly coronavirus, a study suggests.

It was announced on Wednesday that confirmed cases of the new coronavirus have topped 200,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But the study could help slow the increase of that number as it showed the monkeys generated specific antibodies in response to the virus which could be useful in vaccine and treatment development against the deadly disease.

The research, posted March 14 to the preprint database medRxiv, has not been peer reviewed.

The small study included only four rhesus macaques, two of which were exposed to the virus twice.

"According to our current study, the antibodies produced by the infected monkeys can protect the monkey from the re-exposure to the virus," senior author Dr. Chuan Qin, director of the Institute of Laboratory Animal Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, told Live Science.

The results suggest that exposure to SARS-CoV-2 can protect rhesus macaques from subsequent infection and indicates that the monkeys could be useful in vaccine and treatment development.

"Because of the similar immune response of [nonhuman primates] and human beings, [nonhuman primate] models are better to evaluate vaccines than other animals," Chuan said.

But another expert has warned that the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt due to the small size of it and some of its conditions.

"The big limitation of this study … is that it's really a short-term rechallenge study," meaning the monkeys were "rechallenged" with the virus soon after recovering from the first infection, said Dr. Dean Winslow, a professor of hospital medicine at Stanford University Medical Center who specialises in infectious diseases.

Winslow said that, while it represents a solid first step toward understanding the immune response to this virus, the study should be replicated in a larger group of primates and the second exposure should take place further out from the first.

He said only then can we see whether and how immunity persists over longer periods of time, and how that relates to the clinical data we gather from human patients.

"This was a very nice, initial pilot study," he said. "But the limitations are what they are."

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